With the release of Fire Emblem: Three Houses, Astral Chain, and Super Mario Maker 2 all crowding up Nintendo's Summer schedule it's forgivable that Daemon X Machina was one that managed to avert our gaze despite wowing us with an impressive reveal last E3. The stylish mech-based shooter is an exclusive for Nintendo's hybrid console and takes place in a reality where technology built to support the earth after the destruction of the moon has gone rogue and has waged war on the remnants of mankind. At Cologne this year we got our hands on Daemon X Machina ahead of its not too distant release in September and for the most part, we were impressed with what we saw.
At the start of the demo, we entered a hanger that presented us with an obscene number of customisation options for both our mech and piloting protagonist. Here we could add individual splashes of colour to our mech's head, arms, body, and legs and could cycle between various equippable decals and patterns. It was also possible to create our own custom loadouts of weapons, armour, and shields and these could all be demoed in a training area against unsuspecting test subjects. With such a wide variety of unlocks containing their own stats and pros and cons, we can imagine that the training ground will be occupied by many experimental players come September.
Within our short time with the game, we took a look at four missions that took centre stage within a city and desert setting. These missions did little to capture our imagination though as they required us to destroy a set amount of targets and safeguard a particular area, however, they did manage to showcase exactly how the mech action here operates. When strapped into our mech suit we could soar around the area we found ourselves in, flying around to our heart's content (straying outside the map causes you to fail). There was a great sense of verticality as tanks would attack from the ground and drones would laser strike us from above. What's more, the gunplay felt snappy enough but we were unsure why we weren't able to use melee attack unless we were equipped with a weapon like a sword. Surely we could just slam foes with our powerful punches and kicks?
During the action, we could also exit our mech suit to lay down traps such as mines to damage approaching threats on the ground. This can, of course, hinder your foes but you are vulnerable outside your heavily armoured mech suit and you will take much more damage so you need to be cautious when planning such a move. We could also pick up special weapons dropped by enemies and wield them against them, and during a later boss battle, for example, we disassembled its laser cannon and picked it up to unleash a powerful charged blast.
In the fourth mission, we faced our first boss, a hulking spider-like robot known as the Gunfort. Shielded by a large pink forcefield, this bullet sponge would try and hit us with a charged blast from its laser cannon and would attempt to body slam us into the ground after launching itself high into the air. This was the first real skill check for us and we had to circle around it shooting canisters on its legs to slowly chisel away at its beastly health bar. At one point the boss shattered our mech and we had to scramble across the desert landing the odd shot with our accompanying drone as we tried avoiding a creature 10 times our size.
The bright cel-shaded visuals here are gorgeous and we felt its chugging metal soundtrack complimented the action really well but what we did have issues with was the HUD, which appeared crowded and its white text often becomes unreadable during the action. Key information such as our ammunition, party members, plus health and stamina bars were all cluttered together and could have made much better use of screen space. The mini-map wasn't the best at visually communicating information to us either as its background was greyed out and didn't display an overview of our surroundings and instead just contained an assortment of blinking dots and arrows.
With the demo constrained to one single unit, we were unable to check out the four-player multiplayer and handheld specific features. Daemon X Machina is playable with up to three additional players both locally and online and we have been informed that players can assist you with the story as well as particular missions built exclusively for multiplayer. We were also unable to experience motion controls with the Joy-Cons but we do know that they are completely optional and you can tweak the sensitivity to your liking when the game is paused.
Nintendo's hybrid console is home to many great titles but we would be lying if we said we could name one solid mech shooter in its catalogue - that could soon change! Daemon X Machina appears rich with customisation options and we enjoyed how its combat offered a sense of verticality, pushing us to respond to threats in the air and on the ground. We did find that the missions present in the demo were a bit bland and the HUD could use some extra attention to ensure that it's clearer and more legible. You won't have to wait too long to read our final impressions as Daemon X Machina releases exclusively on the Nintendo Switch on September 13.